Planningtorock conjures so much ferocious power and wonder in the songs and visuals on her latest album, W, that it seems almost sacrilege to reveal the “secular” name of the artist behind the work. While working as either songwriter, performer, video artist or producer, Janine Rostron constantly pushes the boundaries of gender to transform herself, but it’s not just done in her donning of a prosthetic nose or mask, but by manipulating her voice and seemingly becoming an alien creature that is, at times, neither masculine nor feminine, but sometimes both. Parts of her work are allied to the transformative facets of Cindy Sherman’s self-portraits, but Planningtorock uses a different set of artistic tools, using self-parody and transformation to get to different layers of connection through music and video. She tests the limits of her voice, experiments with ideas and personal themes to get to the deepest kind of art, inviting us to discover something about ourselves while exploring her deepest emotions and venturing beyond her safety zone.

How did your sound evolve from the more classically-based Have It All to the darker, more experimental pop W in the five years you were working on it? Were the darker elements a natural progression because of the strong emotional elements in the new songs?

With W, I wanted to focus more on the production of my sound and explore instruments that I really love, like the baritone/tenor saxophone or Chinese percussion, and produce my voice to get really specific and achieve a sonic that felt new to me, creating an independent musical position. I wanted to make songs that I’d never heard before. I feel as a result this record is closer the music I wanna make. I wouldn’t describe the album as dark, though rather deep or heavy; for me, it’s important to distinguish between those words.

“I wanted to make songs that I’d never heard before”

Is your video work a natural extension of your music and production work? Was it something you studied while at school?

My interest in video and film was properly explored born at art school, where I was making both music and video, [and] marrying the two very early on. Movie sound tracks were my first and earliest influence in wanting to make music and I consider this third language one of the most creatively powerful. With video, I can add and enhance the narratives and sentiments in the music. It’s a lot of work because I direct and edit all the videos myself, but it’s immense fun and the results are so rewarding.

I have a feeling you’re a perfectionist who is obsessive about her work.  Is it sometimes difficult to “let a song go” as finished, rather than continuing to chisel away or build on it to perfect it?

When I came to selecting the songs for W, I had 27 tracks to choose from. I’m writing music non-stop and have a lot of material, but only some songs actually reach a point where they feel different, touching on something new; and then, yeah I get pretty obsessed. Making music is all I do, I love it!

Was it difficult to finally finish W, since working on it must have been such an intense and rewarding experience?

Yes it was. It’s hard to know when an album is completed and you’re already writing the next, but there was still a defining moment when W saddening appeared and was a completed piece of work.

Was your nose prosthetic a visual that you happened upon by chance while playing with visual concepts or was changing your face in some way, rather than just wearing a mask, an idea you had early on for W?

When I’m recording and working on the music, I film and make drawings parallel, so when the album was done, the main idea I’d developed was that I wanted to try and make visual what I was pursuing in the music. I knew I wanted to expand on my facial features; any additions I make to myself, whether they be helmets or prosthetics, are always out of an interest to expand on what I’ve already got–It’s never about hiding or concealing–so I bought some nose putty at the theatre store and started adding it to my face, and suddenly things started to happen; It was like the voice I’d created in the music was coming alive.

Does the way you change your face help you to create an everywoman/everyman figure that crosses not only gender boundaries, but also one that can be seen as the stranger or ‘other’ in all of us?

I’m into “gender fluidity”, an ever-evolving gender that’s undefinable and free–the way I’ve changed my face is yes, a notion of an “other”, but it’s still me, just more of me and perhaps me impersonating myself from where I am right now. It’s been amazing how people from all kinds of positions have identified with the videos, totally getting the sexual and transformation feelings and embracing it.

“Sharing your voice on stage gives you such a connection to a crowd. It strikes right at your soul”

I’d read that you first started honing your voice in live performance, since you’d started out doing instrumental music. Is it liberating to be able to use your voice not only to convey different emotions but also, become a stranger that the audience can connect to as something within themselves?

Absolutely. Sharing your voice on stage gives you such a connection to a crowd. It strikes right at your soul. That’s something I’m looking forward to [while] touring this record. I missed performing through all those years recording, and now, it’s time to communicate the rest of the album live! The voice is my favorite instrument. I had fun perverting and bending it on this record.

There are so many standout songs on the album, but “Living It Out” definitely sounds like a departure, a blend of pure dancefloor ecstasy and freedom.  Did the chorus and lyrics come to you as the melody was worked on or afterward?

I wrote the cello riff, then did some vocal improvising with the riff and the lyrics came instantly. I love this song’s message. It’s a simple philosophy about life bringing us up, down, in, out and absolutely awesome to perform and share. It’s my first “dance” tune.

I love the instrumental track “Black Thumber” on the album and hear a bit of early Michael Nyman in the patterns and the build and the overall atmosphere the song creates.  What other contemporary composers that stand out for you?

Yeah, it’s a favorite track of mine. I wanted too have an instrumental on the album to act like a breath between songs. I’ve always liked Penderecki, Sofia Gubaidulina and Meredith Monk, but I’m a big fan of pre-”the piano” Nyman.

Will you be coming to tour the US this fall? Will you bring along a couple of musicians or be doing the shows solo?

Yes, there are plans for a tour in the USA for sure. For this record, I’ve enlisted a couple of musicians to play live, got some live saxophone, percussion and electronics. I want to stay true to the record as best I can. I think there’ll be more musicians added down the line. We played a show in London and Berlin last week and it was an amazing feeling to finally share this music live.

A couple of years ago at SXSW, you were listed as one of the performers playing during the day at the SX conference center in Austin.  Unfortunately, my flight to Austin was late that day but I’d rushed to  try to see the show. Did you go to SXSW to play that single show?

Ah, shame you missed it. No, there were two shows planned. The second one was a DFA night… both shows where crazy and fun. I loved Austin, although it’s a strange time to be there, right?–Madeline Virbasius

  1. great interview.